Equality & Civil Rights





I have always been a strong advocate for fairness, equality and civil rights throughout my career. I believe that our nation is stronger for its commitment to defending the rights of all people and for valuing human dignity.

In Congress, I have supported legislation that has battled discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation. From the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I have fought for equality in the workplace, in the military, on our streets and in our homes.



I am one of the original, founding members of the Congressional Equality Caucus for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans. As a member of this caucus, I have advocated for the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.


In 2004, I rallied on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in support of same-sex marriage, and I was proud when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality, playing a pioneering role in bringing this issue into the national spotlight.  Just over a decade later, in June of 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court  ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court’s decision holds that every state must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Marriage equality is reflective of the individual liberty and freedom on which our nation was founded, and through this decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed those basic American rights. Consenting individuals throughout the country, regardless of where they live, now have the ability to live an authentic life and have their monogamous, long-term relationships recognized and celebrated.  This was a historic milestone in the march for equality, and I will continue to work to ensure this ruling is implemented and followed across the country, so that equality reaches every state.





The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was one of the first pieces of legislation signed by President Barack Obama after he became president.  This landmark legislation restored women’s right to fight pay discrimination and has helped to further gender equality in America. Legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Act seeks to remove the roadblocks women may encounter and provides women better opportunities to find unobstructed professional success.

Significant steps have been taken in recent years toward ensuring that women are paid equally and fairly for the work that they do, and helping to end gender discrimination.  Continuing to build on these signs of progress will advance the rights of women, benefit middle class families, and strengthen our nation.

We still have work to do, though, when it comes to women in the workplace. For example, according to the US Census Bureau, women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by a by a man, and are more likely to be poor. I am a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that seeks to ensure that women are paid the same amount for doing the same job as their male counterparts.


My late husband, Paul Tsongas, was the first U.S. Senator to introduce legislation to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation. That was more than 35 years ago, in 1979.  I agreed with him then and feel just as strongly about championing similar measures today.  Almost directly after I was elected in 2007, I strongly supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spearheaded by my former colleague Barney Frank. I also supported the Baldwin Amendment, which would have added protections for gender identity saying, "we need to have the most comprehensive protections possible, and the Baldwin Amendment would make a good bill better." 

While ENDA passed in the House of Representatives in 2007, it did not move in the Senate.   In 2013, ENDA passed the Senate by a vote of 64-32 and I went to the House Floor to urge former House Speaker John Boehner to bring the bill to the floor for the “sake of dignity, justice and equality.”


I am also an original cosponsor of the Equality Act which would provide full nondiscrimination protection to LGBT Americans. This legislation would not change the law, but would simply extend anti-discrimination protections in public accommodations, housing, employment, federal funding, education, credit, and jury service. The Equality Act will expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other existing laws to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the characteristics upon which discrimination is prohibited. To urge action on this matter, I joined my colleagues in co-signing a letter requesting that the House Judiciary Committee hold a hearing on the Equality Act.





I proudly joined President Obama on December 22, 2010 at the White House as he signed into law the legislation that officially ended the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It was a moment that I had been working for since joining Congress. In 2008, I participated in the first Congressional hearing on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy since 1993.  At that hearing, I questioned the panel of witnesses saying, "it was with the support of the district I now represent, and the vision of Marty Meehan, that this outdated policy has come to the attention of Congress with such powerful effect. With at least 65,000 gay Americans currently serving our nation with distinction, it is clear that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a policy that must come to an end. This flawed and unworkable policy threatens the readiness of our military by discharging hundreds of vital military personnel critical to our national security and shutting the door to thousands more." 

On December 15, 2010, I voted in favor of the law that repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.


On June 30, 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the Department of Defense will end the ban on transgender Americans serving in the United States Military.  Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly in the U.S. Military without fear of retribution, meaning they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender. I have always believed that the military is enhanced when it can benefit from the talents of all who have an interest in serving.  As Secretary Carter stated:

“[We in] the Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible … to remain what we are now – the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter said.

“Our mission is to defend this country…and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”


On December 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the Department of Defense will open all military Combat jobs to women. This announcement was welcome and long overdue news to the countless servicewomen who have selflessly and courageously served their nation around the globe. This was a milestone on the path to equality in our armed forces and recognizes the significant role women are already playing on the battlefield; fighting and sacrificing on behalf of their country.

Everyone has now been placed on equal footing, whereby future opportunities for advancement are no longer limited. The military has finally realized that a culture of mutual respect is critical to weeding out discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. No longer is it acceptable for the military to treat women as second-class citizens and ignore the potential talent and skill offered by half of the American population.

More women entering into combat means more women rise through the ranks to take on leadership roles, and gain the important status and power to better advocate for important issues that affect all servicemembers. This progress is a proclamation of equality to every member of the armed forces that will open more doors than we have even begun to imagine.

But as the doors open to servicewomen and a greater talent pool is tapped, the military must find ways to support all those who wear the uniform. This necessitates addressing women’s health matters and developing equipment and policies that increase women’s safety and success on and off the battlefield. Supporting military women is essential to building the strongest military possible. From a practical standpoint, the Army spends millions of dollars training women to do a job. Without adequate support, resources and health care options, many women may choose to leave the military at the end of their enlistments, at great cost to the military and denying the military their talents.

I have also been a national voice in the fight against sexual assault in the military and gender-specific body armor. Follow these links to find out more information:

Protecting our servicemembers




I strongly supported the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act saying, “Intolerance and crimes motivated by hatred have no place in our society.”  President Obama signed this legislation into law in October of 2009 so that the Hate Crimes law covers all violent crimes motivated on the basis of the victim’s religion, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. 


Unfortunately, every day LGBT students are subject to harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, but civil rights laws do not expressly include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.   To give all students these protections and a safe school environment, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 846, the Student Non-Discrimination Act.



Over the past year there has been an alarming increase of anti-LGBT state bills across the country. These bills came in several forms. Some aimed to restrict transgender Americans’ access to public accommodations, school activities, or appropriate medical care, while others allowed judges to refuse to marry same-sex couples, and businesses to deny services to LGBT Americans.  Unfortunately, all these state bills have the same goal: to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.

In June of 2016, I joined several of my colleagues in commending the Departments of Justice and Education for issuing joint regulations to provide educators, parents and students with the information they need to ensure transgender students have access to public education in an environment free from discrimination.  This guidance was a much-needed step to clarify the existing requirements under the law and will ultimately help ensure transgender students realize the promise of equal opportunity in our schools. 

While the Commonwealth and the United States have made significant progress, LGBT Americans still face too many challenges. Legislation signed into law in the Commonwealth in 2011 extended legal protections to transgender people in the areas of credit/lending, housing, employment and public education, but it did not provide protections in public accommodations.  We know there is a real need for these protections. A 2014 survey found that 65% of transgender people living in Massachusetts report having experienced discrimination in a public place. Unfortunately, threats and violence against transgender people are also far too common. I submitted testimony in support of the public accommodations bill to the State House.  

While I ultimately hope Congress will pass legislation providing equal protections to all Americans across all 50 states, I was so proud that the Massachusetts Legislature passed and Governor Baker signed into law a transgender public accommodations bill in 2016. This law allows individuals to use facilities corresponding to their gender identity, and bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity, in any public accommodation: that includes department stores, restaurants, gas stations, parks, and trains. Such measures are critically important in protecting the civil rights of transgender people.


I am an original cosponsor of legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in all credit transactions – that means student loans, small business loans, mortgages, credit cards.  An Individual’s credit worthiness should only be judged on their financial qualifications. Currently, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits lenders from discriminating in any credit transaction because of someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age or whether he or she receives public assistance. The Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the characteristics upon which discrimination is prohibited.

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